Donald Harvey Francks (28 February 1932 – 3 April 2016), also known as Iron Buffalo, was a Canadian actor, singer and musician.


Professional career

Don Francks was born on February 28, 1932, and shortly after his birth he was adopted. His mother worked at a music store and his father was an electrician. As a child, he performed on Vancouver radio doing imitations of singers. After dropping out of high school at age 15, he worked in several jobs. In 1955 he won a recurring role on the CBC television program Burns Chuckwagon from the Stampede Corral. After guest appearances on television shows during the late 1950s, he received his first lead role in the 1959–60 CBC program R.C.M.P., playing Constable Bill Mitchell.

During the 1960s he had roles on the American television programs Mission: Impossible, Jericho, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, and Mannix. His most famous film part was in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Finian's Rainbow. He acted on Broadway in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Kelly. In 1969 he rejected an offer to work with Katharine Hepburn in Coco, her only stage musical.

In 1962 Francks led Three, an avant-garde jazz trio with Lenny Breau on guitar and Eon Henstridge on double bass. The band performed regularly in Toronto and New York City and appeared in the National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz.[1]

In 1963 Franks released No One in This World Is Like Don Francks, his first solo album, recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City. The title of the album derived from a remark made by Jackie Gleason when the trio performed on the April 23, 1963 The Jackie Gleason Show playing "Bye Bye Blackbird". Two years later he recorded his second album, Lost... and Alone, with orchestral arrangements by Patrick Williams. He recorded his final album, 21st Century Francks, in 2002 at the Top o' the Senator in Toronto. The album was released in 2014.

Personal life

In 1962 Francks married Nancy Sue Johnson. They had a son, Trane, and daughter before divorcing in 1967. While filming Finian's Rainbow Francks met Lili Clark, a dancer from San Francisco. After persuading her to travel with him to the Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan, the two married in a field on May 4, 1968. Franks and Clark had a daughter, Cree Summer (born 1969), and a son, Rainbow Sun (born 1979). During the 1970s Francks and Clark lived at Red Pheasant. During this time the Cree chief King Bird Baptiste gave Francks the name "Iron Buffalo", meaning "someone who is strong, who knows where to go, and who provides well for his family".[Citation needed]

An avid motorcycle rider, he had a collection of twelve antique cars, mostly Model-T Ford racing cars from 1912 to 1927.[2] He was a poet, native nations champion, author, and peace activist. He supported Greenpeace[3] and the Tibetan independence movement. After quitting alcohol at the age of 21, Francks smoked marijuana, performing a song called "Smoking Reefers".[4] As a spokesman for Other Voices (Canadian TV series) in mid-1960s, he investigated a boy's murder at Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan.[5] Francks died in Toronto on April 3, 2016 of lung cancer.


Francks composed songs and played trombone, drums, and flute. He performed in jazz clubs such as George's Spaghetti House in Toronto and the Village Vanguard in New York City, where he recorded the album Jackie Gleason Says No One in This World Is Like Don Francks[6] (Kapp, 1963). In New York City he recorded Lost...and Alone (Kapp, 1965).[2]

In August 1962 his avant-garde jazz group Three debuted unrehearsed at the Purple Onion coffeehouse in Toronto, Canada. Francks, Lenny Breau, and Eon Henstridge were joined on stage by tap dancer Joey Hollingsworth. The evening was recorded live by Breau's manager, George B. Sukornyk, but wasn't released until 2004 under the name Live at the Purple Onion (Art of Life, 2004). A National Film Board documentary called Toronto Jazz included rehearsals and performances by Three and two other groups. Francks and Breau briefly reprised Three in early 1968 in Toronto with bassist Dave Young in place of Eon Henstridge, who had died the year before.[7] In 1999, Francks appeared in the documentary The Genius of Lenny Breau.


Francks' acting career began with CBC Television as a regular on Burns Chuckwagon from the Stampede Corral (1955–55) and Riding High (1955), then in the drama The Fast Ones (1959). In 1957 he had a part in the American series The Adventures of Tugboat Annie (actually filmed in Toronto Canada), then back to Canada in 1958 for Cannonball and Long Shot (1959). In 1959–60 he starred in the CBC-TV series R.C.M.P., playing Constable Bill Mitchell.[8] In 1968 he co-starred with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark in the film version of Finian's Rainbow.[3]

This Land (1970–86) was a CBC-TV documentary series on Canadian nature, wildlife, natural resources, and life in remote communities. Francks was the narrator. He portrayed writer Grey Owl, returning fifty years after his death to be disturbed by the ecological deterioration. (Episode "Land of Shadows" first aired 1983-08-02.)[9]

From 1997 to 2001, he played "Walter" in La Femme Nikita (TV series). Early television credits include: Mission: Impossible, Wild Wild West, and several other episodic television appearances. In the 2015 six-part series Gangland Undercover on the History Channel, he played "Lizard". His film work includes The Big Town, My Bloody Valentine and Johnny Mnemonic.[5]

On February 16, 1964, he appeared on Broadway in the title role of the musical Kelly, as a daredevil planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. The show was the first on Broadway in a generation to close on opening night.[3]


Francks played Archie Goodwin with Mavor Moore as Nero Wolfe for a 1982 series on Canadian radio. He provided the voice of "Skunk" in Gene Simmons' animated television show, My Dad the Rock Star.[5]

According to differing sources, either Francks[10] or Gabriel Dell[11] was the uncredited actor providing the voice of Boba Fett, a Mandalorian bounty hunter, in the Star Wars Holiday Special. Francks, credited, voiced the role of Boba Fett in an episode of Star Wars: Droids. He voiced several characters in Inspector Gadget, along with his daughter, Cree Summer, who voiced Penny during the first season of the show. He provided the voice for Mok Swagger in the 1983 Canadian animated film Rock and Rule, and the voice of Sabretooth on X-Men. He also voiced both Thomas "House" Conklin & Sergeant Carl Proctor on the 1988 Police Academy animated series.[5]

Selected filmography


  • Heyn, Christopher. "A Conversation with Don Francks". Inside Section One: Creating and Producing TV's La Femme Nikita. Introduction by Peta Wilson. Los Angeles: Persistence of Vision Press, 2006. p. 100–105; ISBN: 0-9787625-0-9.


  1. Toronto Jazz. Retrieved on 28 August 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 BC Radio History. Retrieved on 23 May 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Don Francks. Retrieved on 23 May 2013.
  4. "Singer, actor Don Francks was a fountain of endless creativity", 16 May 2018. Retrieved on 28 August 2018. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Interview with Gene Glazer. Retrieved on 28 August 2018.
  6. Bearden, Jim (August 1980). Don Francks Full Circle. Retrieved on May 23, 2013.
  7. Forbes-Roberts, Ron (2006). . University of North Texas.
  8. RCMP Constable Bill Mitchell. Retrieved on 23 May 2013.
  9. "This Land, CBC TV series 1070-1986". Retrieved on May 23, 2013. 
  10. Britt, Ryan (November 17, 2016). 38 Years Ago Today, Boba Fett Was Spotted for the First Time. Inverse. Archived from the original on May 26, 2018. Retrieved on May 26, 2018.
  11. Cartoon Characters, Cast and Crew for The Star Wars Holiday Special, … (26 May 2018). Retrieved on 28 August 2018.

External links

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